Friday one of my daughters screamed at me and told me to shut up, before retreating angrily to the solitude of her bedroom. The outburst was completely unexpected and out of character. I sat stunned and hurt, wondering how my simple questions about how school was going warranted such a reaction.
My first impulse was to follow her to the bedroom and berate her for her disrespectful behavior. After all, I didn't deserve this kind of treatment. I'd done nothing wrong. Almost as quickly as I was filled with indignation, I thought of Molly, and immediately I knew anger wasn't what my daughter needed.
Molly was our purebred collie. When I was seventeen, my Dad was a realtor in Missouri. He sold a farm to a family who bred collies. It was a lengthy and complicated real estate transaction and the family appreciated Dad's hard work helping the deal go through. As a token of their appreciation, they gave Dad two purebred collies--Molly and Gabe.
They were beautiful dogs that looked just like Lassie. We all loved them. They were gentle and patient, never getting testy with the little kids no matter how much hugging, petting, brushing, and playing they were forced to endure. We created a comfortable home for them at the back of our carport and they became part of the family.
A year or two later, I was backing out of the yard to go to work. I was always very careful to watch out for little children, but I didn't see Molly. I just felt a sickening thunk when the back tire ran over her. I got out of the car to see Molly yelping and slowly dragging herself away from the back tires as I screamed for help and sobbed at what I'd done.
She was badly hurt. She could hardly move. Thirteen year-old Bruce came running to her aid and gently picked her up. Molly lashed out in pain and bit Bruce as he carefully carried her to her bed. He didn't drop her. He didn't get angry with her. He didn't yell at her. He tenderly laid her down, speaking softly and soothingly, then without even acknowledging his own injury, he stroked her head and calmed her.
Molly died a few minutes later. Then, while everyone cried, Mom took care of Bruce's injuries. Molly had never demonstrated any inclination to hurt anyone in the family and was only driven to behave like that by extreme pain.
Our feelings are crazy things and sometimes our reactions to those feelings don't seem to make sense. We cry when we're sad, but we also cry when we're happy and even sometimes when we're angry. Sometimes we lash out in anger and sometimes we lash in the same way because of pain. Sometimes our hearts ache with love and longing and sometimes they ache with sadness or hurt.
Friday my daughter lashed out at me and once we sat down and talked it over, with love and patience and tears, I learned about the hurtful and hard things she was enduring. She wasn't mad at me. She was just in pain.
I wish I always handled situations like this right. Think how much better things would be if we always reacted calmly and kindly and with love, getting to the bottom of the hurt or the stress or difficulty that is causing someone to act badly toward us. Too many times we quickly jump into the fray, making a bad situation worse, and heaping more pain on someone already suffering. Imagine how sad it would have been if Bruce had dropped Molly in anger or yelled at her as she lay there dying.
I know that sometimes people just behave badly. But I also think that more often than not, when someone lashes out at us unfairly, they are hurting and need our love and kindness more than ever.
"Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution." ~Kahlil Gibran